Solving the traffic problem

>> Sunday, June 5, 2016

Ike Señeres

The slow flow of traffic is a multifaceted problem that needs a multidisciplinary solution. It could just be a matter of semantics, but the problem is not the existence of traffic, but the slow flow of traffic itself. By definition, there is already an existence of traffic if there is at least one vehicle on the road. Strictly speaking, the problem is not the traffic, but the slow flow of traffic.
By way of sarcasm, we could say that the only way to prevent traffic is to prevent all vehicles from using the roads. But of course, that is not the solution, because the solution is to manage the movement of traffic so that it will flow smoothly in accordance with local and global standards.
That said, the next question is to agree on an acceptable rate of flow that could be measurable, for example in terms of kilometers per hour (KPH). The capability to measure is important and necessary because that would be the only way to measure the success and failure of traffic flow targets.
As it is now, we tend to measure the flow of traffic in terms of light, moderate and heavy, but these qualitative indicators are difficult to understand and are practically useless because the data could not be analyzed. Besides, these qualitative indicators could not place responsibility on the local government units (LGUs), in terms of their own responsibility to manage the traffic flows.
Unlike illegal drugs and illegal gambling that are clearly covered by the jurisdiction of the LGUs, it is not really clearly stated that the flow of traffic is its responsibility. Here in Metro Manila, it is clear that the overall responsibility belongs to the Metropolitan Manila Development Authority (MMDA) and what that means is that the LGUs within the metropolis could not be blamed for the slow flow of traffic at all.
In theory, it is possible to measure the flow of traffic within a town or city, in terms of KPH. In this context, it would be practical to delegate to the local authorities the responsibility to target and meet their own KPH goals, based on local conditions.
Although there are many practical and legal actions that could be taken in order to solve the problem of slow traffic flows, there are also many technical solutions that are ready to be deployed, some of which would not even cost anything. Since my line is information and communications technology (ICT), I am hopelessly biased in favor of ICT technologies.
As I see it, I think that the problem of slow traffic flows could be solved by the powerful troika of the internet cloud, Big Data and the internet of things (IOT). As I see it, the solutions are all about data, how data is analyzed, and how it is used as a basis to make management decisions.
As of now, there are already many online and mobile services that are already available for free, and all we have to do is to use them. For example, there is already Google Maps, Google Street View and Waze. With Google alone, we would already know how and where we could direct the flow of the traffic.
With Waze, we would know where the choke points are, and that would help us redirect the traffic too. These are just the obvious solutions, but there are many more data sources that we could tap, among which are the National Center for Transportation Studies (NCTS) at the University of the Philippines in Diliman and the National Mapping and Resource Information Authority (NAMRIA) in Taguig City.
At the risk of being off tangent, I would even say that the software used to track the migration patterns of tuna fish via satellite could be modified to also collect data in relation to the traffic flow patterns of motor vehicles. Since tuna fish emit heat from their bodies, powerful sensors on board satellites are able to read these concentrations of heat and therefore it is possible to detect where the schools of tuna fish are at any given time.
Since motor vehicles also emit heat from their engines, we could also find out via satellite where the concentrations of vehicles are at any given time.
The entire metropolis is now equipped with thousands of traffic lights, but it seems that the data from these devices are not collected and are not analyzed to produce information that could be used for making management decisions.
Aside from traffic lights, the metropolis is also equipped now with hundreds of closed circuit television (CCTV) cameras. Just like the traffic lights, it seems that the data from these CCTV cameras are not being collected and analyzed. If only the data from these two sources could be collected and combined, we would have more than enough information for making management decisions. Just to be clear, it is not just the real time data that are useful, because we could also use the historical data.
Certainly, we are not lacking in satellite resources because we even have our own microsatellite now, but as it is now, drones that are equipped with cameras and sensors are already available in the market, and are practically affordable too. Aside from that, there are hundreds of cell sites all over the metropolis that could also be equipped with cameras and sensors, thus completing the web of data collectors all over the place. It may be too simplistic to say that there is a way if there is a will, but that is already saying the obvious because the ways are already available everywhere.
Having said that the problem of traffic flows would require multidisciplinary solutions, I now say that we should also look at the surface quality of our roads and highways, and I do not just mean patching potholes. What I mean is that we should now adopt local standards for the smoothness of our road surfaces, based on acceptable international standards.
On that note, I would also say that we should take a look at how corruption in the construction of roads and highways are affecting the quality of road surfaces. Simply said, better road surfaces would also translate into faster traffic flows.

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